Bourbon Street Grill & Cafe employees (from left) Bobby Lauer, Aissa Ouland and Scott Freeman make food for walk-in customers Thursday at the restaurant on Brown Street in Dayton. Owner Hassan Abdalla said, “we never closed and never laid off anyone.” JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Dayton region added 6,200 jobs in May. But it has a long way to go

The Dayton region added 6,200 jobs last month as the economy started to reopen from the coronavirus lock down — among the largest local one-month payroll increases on record, according to new federal survey data.

But those gains only make up a small fraction of the jobs lost in April, as local employment remained about 40,500 jobs below pre-pandemic levels.

Some economists and other observers say they are worried it could be a long road to recovery, especially if there is a new wave of COVID-19 cases that leads to another shutdown.

But this crisis is unprecedented, which means no one knows for sure what the recovery will look like and how long the economic damage will last.

“We’ll certainly see the effects of the pandemic well into 2021,” said Holly Allen, director of marketing and communications with the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “There are still many variables at play, so it’s hard to predict exactly how the recovery will shake out. But for the most part, business leaders agree that we’re looking at several months of recovery at the very least.”

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In May, Dayton metro area employment increased 1.9% to 350,300 jobs, according to preliminary, seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The only other time local employment increased that much was in August 1998, when it rose 1.9% (or 8,000 jobs), according to bureau records going back to 1990.

Ordinarily, this May’s job gains would be spectacular. But these are not normal times because of a once-in-a-century public health crisis.

Due to efforts to combat the spread of infection, including a statewide stay-at-home order, many businesses closed while many others reduced staff, leading to carnage in the labor market.

In April, the Dayton metro area shed a stunning 45,200 jobs, which is more than five times the amount of jobs lost in any month on record, according to bureau data.

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The bureau this month also revised its preliminary April jobs estimate, which originally showed the region lost 44,000 jobs. The metro area includes Montgomery, Miami and Greene counties.

Some of the industries and sectors that were hardest-hit by the coronavirus shutdown saw the largest payroll growth last month.

Leisure and hospitality employment grew 9.8% in May, or 2,500 jobs, according to not seasonally adjusted data.

A month before, the industry lost 13,100 jobs (or 34% of its workers).

Manufacturing employers hired 2,200 workers in May, after losing 4,700 the prior month.

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Transportation and warehousing and general merchandise employment both grew 3.8%, while health care and social services saw 1.2% growth. Local employers in those fields lost a combined 7,500 jobs in April.

Retail trade employment grew 5.4%, after employers cut more than 17% of their workers in April.

U.S. retail spending and sales increased dramatically in May as businesses began to reopen, but they were still down considerably from the prior year and a full recovery is a long way off, said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist with the National Retail Federation.

While the economy could turn around in the third quarter of this year, a “reawakening” of the coronavirus could spell big trouble for consumers, he said.

New unemployment claims have been declining, a wide variety of companies are hiring and jobs are coming back as more businesses open up, said Julie Sullivan, executive vice president for regional development with the Dayton Development Coalition.

“We’re encouraged by what we’ve seen as businesses reopened and started calling their workers back, but it’s impossible to say what a full recovery would look like,” Sullivan said. “We continue to see companies planning for growth, hiring new employees and looking toward the future.”

She said COVID-19 is spreading in the community and it’s critical that businesses create safe work environments to remain open and stay on the path to economic recovery.

Local job growth likely will be gradual, especially since the re-opening of the economy is happening gradually, said Allen, with the Dayton chamber.

But she said businesses are eager to get back to work, and some industries have added workers quickly to meet increased demand caused by a shift in the economy because of COVID-19.

The technology sector expanded to help businesses whose employees needed to work from home, she said, and grocery services grew to meet increased demand from people who were no longer eating out.

Warehousing and distribution companies saw strong demand as shoppers opted to place orders for home delivery, she said.

“Each industry was affected by COVID-19 in a different way, and as we continue our reopening, they’ll each have to settle into the new ‘normal,’” she said.

The chamber and business leaders are closely monitoring COVID-19 cases as the economy reopens, and businesses need to take safety seriously so there aren’t any more setbacks, she said.

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